Mediterranean Melee 

Dusting off a fan fixture.

It now falls to new owner Carlton McFaden and executive chef Todd Moore, who took over in mid-October, to reinvent Konsta's and restore its status as a dependable dining establishment. Its direction is upward, but Konsta's still has a ways to climb.

What Konsta's lacks most is focus. McFaden, an M.B.A. holder, and Moore, who studied at the Culinary Institute of America, set high standards for making the restaurant better in theory, but neither seems to be able to articulate exactly how in practice. By trying to distance themselves from the Greek-Italian stereotype, they have created a menu that is more muddled Mediterranean than Greek or Italian. The offerings are all over the map.

Appetizers ($6-$9) range from traditional Greek dishes like spanikopita and kalamaria (calamari) to a Spanish tapas sampler and Asian-style shrimp and prosciutto rolls. The Cajun-flavored black and bleu salad of blackened shrimp and portobello mushrooms seems particularly out of place, but no more than the crab cakes Romanov among the dinner selections ($14 - $20). Sure, the sambuca and shallot butter sauce served with the crab cakes make them nominally Italian, but it also makes them less desirable to diners who aren't keen on the licorice-flavored liqueur. It seems a serious oversight as well for a Mediterranean-themed restaurant not to have any form of lamb on a menu dominated by chicken and seafood. And today, a fine dining establishment without an espresso machine, particularly a restaurant that purports to have any sort of Italian connection, is nothing short of scandalous.

None of this would really matter if the newly tweaked Greek-Italian standards on the menu hadn't been so good. The tiropita and spanikopita — baked phyllo triangles filled with cheese and spinach, respectively — came to the table piping hot and were crisp, light and subtly flavored. The crust of the fried kalamaria was wonderfully crunchy and perfectly seasoned, while the squid pieces themselves were melt-in-your-mouth tender. I could live all winter on the Aegean stone soup, a sun-dried tomato and basil bisque; it was lusciously creamy and rich with a tang of capers and a spicy bite of Italian sausage. By contrast, the shrimp and prosciutto rolls, a fusion of Vietnamese-style spring rolls filled with ground shrimp and prosciutto, Gorgonzola cheese and chopped spinach, were merely OK, as the more delicate flavors of shrimp and ham were overpowered by pungent melted Gorgonzola and a cloyingly sweet herb mustard sauce.

There are kinks to be worked out in culinary execution as well. After I'd ordered the seafood pepperonata — a dish of shrimp, scallops, mussels and clams, steamed with peppers and tomatoes and served over linguini — I was told that the mussels were not as fresh as the chef would have liked and was asked if they could be replaced with more of another item. This seemed to show an admirable attention to ingredients, so I was a bit taken aback when the dish arrived. The scallops were tough and overcooked, and of the six clams served, two remained unopened because they had not been steamed long enough. A third was cracked and therefore of dubious freshness itself. Granted, shellfish medleys are a tricky business, because the individual items call for different cooking times, but at $20 for the dish and with a culinary-institute-trained chef at the stove, I confess I expected better.

Still, Konsta's has potential. Once the chef and owner home in on culinary specifics and settle into a rhythm that will let them offer nightly specials, prepare more in-house desserts than tiramisu and crŠme br–lée and ensure that the bread in the basket is freshly made (as it was on one visit) and not store-bought (as it was on another), Konsta's will be poised to cast off that somewhat stodgy '90s sensibility and become a dining destination in Richmond for years to come. S

Konsta's ($$$)
2526 Floyd Avenue (corner of Robinson)
Monday-Friday 11 a.m.-2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.-1 a.m. Saturday 11 a.m.-1 a.m.
Free parking available at 2613 Floyd Ave., accessible through the alley between Floyd and Main.


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